Covering everything from career advice and cybersecurity to best practices in IT management, a packed Monday afternoon session at ISTE 2018 in Chicago, led by Jeremy Shorr of the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM, left next to no stone unturned in its discussion.
What should teachers who want to move into tech leadership be doing?
Pickerington Schools (Ohio) Ed Tech Director Brian Seymour said that educators interested in transitioning to technology roles need to first figure out what area or what school district they’re interested in, because each district is going to be different. In his district, for example, an administrator license and experience as an administrator is required to be in technology leadership. Additionally, teachers will have to figure out what approach they want to embrace.
Simply put, he said, “Do your homework.”
Mountain Brook Schools (Ala.) Technology Director Donna Williamson added that it's beneficial to take the CETL exam from CoSN, saying that a strong foundation for leadership and vision are needed on top of an educational background and technical skills. Being able to see through "the next big shiny object" is key to doing what's really best for students.
“If you don’t have those leadership and visionary skills, you’ll be at a deficit,” Williamson said.
Phil Hintz, the director of technology for the Gurnee School District 56 (Ill.) joined the conversation, suggesting that, as a technology leader, it's important to be a "translator" of sorts who can speak both "geek speak" and "ed speak." He despises the idea of being the "boxes and wire guy," advising that you have to move away from that and get plugged in through organizations like ISTE and CoSN, as well as professional learning networks.
"You have to be an advocate," he said.
On the advocacy topic, Kentucky Department of Education Chief Digital Officer Marty Park added that educators need step up and own their leadership, and pitch ideas and get people to believe in them. It’s not a “Do it this way because I said do it” kind of thing, he said.
How do you structure IT and gain 'street cred' with teachers?
Williamson said that when an IT leader first starts, they’ll be doing a lot of “nuts and bolts” work because it might be a one-or-two-person team. There’s always something breaking, a virus to fix, device deployment details to sort out and so on. Everyone else just wants these things to work, but doesn’t care about the reasoning for why it doesn’t, she advised.
Teachers are getting more tech-savvy and familiar, so branding instructional technology people into a sort of learning support team is key. The tech side must have a network administrator or somebody who can manage fixing the technology.
In that vein, Seymour said it's important for technology leaders to build relationships with teachers and letting them know they are there to support their work in the classroom. Just knowing they have someone available support them and help them enhance what they’re doing goes a long way.
How can teachers transitioning to technology roles gain technical knowledge?
Asked how teachers might gain technical knowledge to help in the transition to a technology leadership role, Hintz suggested participating in a cable company workshop. CoSN might also have resources for those skills.
Seymour said that when he made the transition, he used the summer, when things were "kind of downish," and spent time with the technology specialists to learn about what they did. He also said this works in the opposite direction when you put technology leaders in the classroom to learn more about what teachers are doing and how they can better assist them.
You want people smarter than you on your team, but you need to know enough to ask the right questions, he said.
Williamson said when she started in these roles in the ‘80s, she went around with the people on the technical side when they were wiring buildings and also followed the technology staff members around when they went to the closets. Without knowing the educational or technical pieces, it’s really hard to negotiate and close the best deals for a district or school, she said.
How do you gain administrator buy-in and get a seat in the leadership cabinet?
Park said that it’s key to re-engage every time there’s a leadership change, to invest in the process and show one's value as a trusted advisor.
Williamson added that to get to the table, she had to show that she needed to be there — but not in a boisterous way. Technology leaders have to demonstrate that they need to be at the table, not just to leadership, but to everyone else in individual school leadership within the district.
One way to do that is to demonstrate the ever-closer ties between technology and pedagogy.
Hintz detailed how a former superintendent wasn’t a big fan of instructional coaching, but his new superintendent is coming from the curriculum side and is very much for adding instructional coaches. Advocating for some sort of coaching — whether it’s in instruction, technology or behavior — is key to being preventative before an event ever happens.
Seymour added that changing pedagogy to fit technology initiatives is key for success, as it’s been shown that just putting devices in people’s hands and expecting everything to be fine doesn't work. Job-embedded professional development is key, and the technology director and curriculum director have to be good friends because the two work hand-in-hand.
How much concern is there about DDoS attacks and other cybersecurity issues?
Cybersecurity concerns are a major focus for anyone in tech leadership today, given that education is one of the most popular targets for malicious hackers. Hintz said that getting a strategic plan in place and having a crisis plan is crucial. KnowBe4 can help staff learn how to avoid accidentally compromising cybersecurity with phishing tests. Student and data privacy are also critical, and slip-ups can happen in any school, he said, adding that the Facebook and Equifax incidents should have everyone shaken up.
Williamson also advised looking at insurance riders for cybersecurity and understanding the district’s liability in a cyberattack. Read the insurance carefully, though, she added, to avoid over-buying. She also said she got her staff’s attention regarding being careful about suspicious links by circulating a list of all the things to do if one's identity is breached because he or she clicked on the wrong link in an email.